Singapore-US economic cooperation 'dynamic and flourishing': PM Lee

Aug 24, 2021

FIFTY-FIVE years into what is a thriving bilateral relationship, Singapore and the United States pledged to take their "robust and enduring" ties to the next level with greater cooperation in cybersecurity, climate change, the economy, dealing with pandemics and even in the field of space.

Standing alongside US Vice-President Kamala Harris at the Istana on Monday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said her visit – coming just a month after US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin's trip here – emphasises the Biden Administration’s strong commitment to the region.

"It shows that the US has both strategic and economic stakes in Southeast Asia. We value the US renewing its ties with its friends and partners here, especially with Singapore," said Mr Lee at a press conference, held shortly after a 90-minute meeting with Ms Harris.

The 56-year-old - in town for the first leg of her first trip to Asia since taking office in January - said the US administration is "committed to enduring engagement" in Singapore, South-east Asia and the Indo-Pacific.

"The reason I am here is because the United States is a global leader, and we take that role seriously, understanding that we have many interests and priorities around the world," she said in her remarks.

The two leaders marked the historic occasion as their respective governments announced a raft of agreements, including three deals between Singapore and the US' cyber, defence and finance agencies.

A new Partnership for Growth and Innovation will strengthen bilateral and regional collaboration on trade and investment, beginning with the four pillars of digital economy, energy and environmental technologies, advanced manufacturing, and healthcare.

Singapore and the US are also launching a climate partnership, which will create opportunities for businesses and workers in green growth sectors.

Two new programmes on smart cities - one on professional exchanges and the other on green buildings - will be rolled out.

On the issue of supply chains, Mr Lee said he welcomed the start of a Singapore-US dialogue to work together to strengthen supply chain resilience.

And on pandemic preparedness, he shared that the two countries will pursue collaboration on genome sequencing and epidemic intelligence.

This will speed up the identification of Covid-19 variants as well as emerging disease threats, and augment regional preparedness for current and future pandemics.

Mr Lee also said that he was happy to see both sides working together on space cooperation, which he described as the world's "next frontier".

"It is a substantial agenda of deliverables which will enhance our partnership. I am confident that our longstanding and multi-faceted bilateral relationship will continue to strengthen year by year," he said.

Earlier in his remarks, Mr Lee said that economic cooperation between Singapore and the US is "dynamic and flourishing".

He noted that bilateral trade, which he described as "well balanced and mutually beneficial", has more than doubled since the signing of the free trade agreement (FTA) between the two nations in 2004. That FTA was the US' first with an Asian country.

Singapore is the second-largest Asian investor in the US, with direct investment stock of over US$65 billion, said Mr Lee.

On the other hand, the US is currently Singapore's largest foreign direct investor, with foreign direct investment stock of US$315 billion – an amount Mr Lee said is more than the US investments in China, India and South Korea combined.

He added that Singapore’s US investments and American exports to Singapore support over 250,000 American jobs. And today, Singapore is home to almost 5,500 US companies.

One topic that featured prominently at the press conference was the ongoing situation in Afghanistan with the Taleban’s takeover following America's withdrawal.

Mr Lee announced that, in his meeting with Ms Harris, he had conveyed the offer to use a Republic of Singapore Air Force A330 multi-role tanker transport plane to help with the evacuation efforts in Afghanistan.

Ms Harris thanked Mr Lee for the "very generous offer" to assist the US, and that she "looked forward to following up on that discussion".

In the question-and-answer segment with reporters, Mr Lee pointed out that the Biden Administration "inherited an extremely difficult situation".

"The US had invested considerable blood and treasure in Afghanistan. But it was an intractable task, given the complex history, geography, and tribal rivalries of that place," he said.

"Successive US presidents have declared their resolve to withdraw from Afghanistan. I told the Vice-President that we understand President Biden’s reasons for his decision."

Mr Lee added that the safety and security of civilians is on the minds of everyone around the world, and he hoped that all sides involved could work together to ensure this.

When asked by a journalist to elaborate on "what went wrong" in the US' withdrawal from Afghanistan, Ms Harris stressed that there will be "plenty of time to analyse what has happened".

"Right now, we are singularly focused on evacuating American citizens, Afghans who worked with us, and Afghans who are vulnerable, including women and children," she said.

"That is our singular focus at this time, understanding that we have a priority in making sure that the people who, in particular, helped America achieve its responsibilities in terms of our priorities and the reason we went to Afghanistan in the first place... are safe."